Austmine 2019, the biennial conference of Austmine, the leading industry body for the Australian Mining, Equipment, Technology and Services (METS) sector, was held last week (May 21-23, 2019) in my hometown of Brisbane. I spoke on Augmented Reality (AR) in the sessions on Mineral Processing Plants, and it was a topic of great interest if you can judge by the hits on our LinkedIn posts, the people talking to me after the presentation, and the wide range of AR helmet and AR glasses vendors reaching out to me!
Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality
To begin with, let’s start by looking at how AR is different from VR and MR:
- Augmented Reality (AR) overlays virtual objects onto a real-world environment.
- Virtual Reality (VR) immerses users in a fully artificial digital environment.
- Mixed Reality (MR) doesn’t just overlay virtual objects onto a virtual reality but anchors them to the real-world.
Maybe the best way to understand what AR is is to first take just a moment to watch this video of it in action at one of our customers, Tenaris.
All three technologies (AR, VR, MR) have benefits in intuitive visualisation and information retrieval and help to significantly reduce errors and mistakes. Skill-based errors involve not doing what you’re meant to do and forgetting to do something or losing your place midway through a task. Mistakes are decision-making failures. The two main types of mistake are rule-based mistakes and knowledge-based mistakes. They arise when we do the wrong thing, believing it to be right.
We see three main application scenarios for AR today.
- In front of a machine
Immediate access, in real time, to relevant information in the field for operations and maintenance: machine history, variables of process, documents (products, installations, instructions, electrical diagrams, etc).
- In front of an electrical cabinet
Fast diagnosis without lockout or electrical qualifications, through the virtual doors opening the cabinet: device status, variable values (current, power, speed, etc), documents (products, installations, manuals, electric diagrams, etc.).
- For an overall view
Safe and rapid detection of abnormalities (alarm display, significant variables of process) and access to KPIs (display parameters and key information, production progress, performance indicators…).
More usage scenarios will emerge as the technology is deployed. In fact a lot was said at Austmine 2019 about facilitating shift handover, and I think there might be use cases in that scenario that can be explored. Let me know if you have an idea!
Helmet, Glasses or Tablet?
Schneider Electric’s view is that AR Helmets and Glasses are not yet ready for deployment as field devices, supported by an interesting article by Wheeler where he listed “Five Major Problems to Solve for Mass Adoption of AR Headsets”
- Problem Number One: The form factor is inherently uncomfortable and unwieldy.
- Problem Number Two: The price point is too high for mass adoption.
- Problem Number Three: Smartphones and tablets are already the ultimate form factor, with few exceptions.
- Problem Number Four: AR Glasses do not solve any major problem or fulfil any major need with a demonstrable ROI.
- Problem Number Five: People are now more distrustful of new AR tech and are weary of hype full of overpromising features.
We have seen all of these issues in mining companies at various times, and while Headsets and Glasses do remain highly suitable when used for training, engineering visualisation or similar controlled environments (not in the field), our solution today relies upon the use of a tablet (or smartphone) as the AR device which best overcomes the above issues.
How to Start
At Austmine 2019, Ann Burns from Accenture gave a provocative view that the time for doing small scale pilots and proof of concept projects was over and instead suggested looking at larger scale rollouts for what Accenture calls “DARQ Technologies” (Distributed ledger, Artificial intelligence, extended Reality and Quantum computing).
My Schneider Electric colleague, Jack Krutak, has also written about the pitfalls of POCs in an interesting article you might want to read entitled, “How to Avoid the POC Graveyard.”
But if you want to go ahead and actually play with the technology, go to your iOS or Android app store and look for EcoStruxure Augmented Operator Advisor. Download it and you’ll be able to play around with it a little to see if it’s something you think you’d find useful in your own operation. Or, if you are interested in discovering Schneider’s AR solution in more detail, please let me know!